Even Norman Lear is finding it hard to believe that he’s landed on this milestone: Wednesday marks Lear’s 100th birthday.
“I cannot believe a century has passed,” Lear tells USA TODAY. “I’d rather believe a new century starts. How exciting is that?”
If Lear’s next century is anything like his first, then it’s going to be a doozy. Lear, a recipient of a 2017 Kennedy Center Honor, has changed television and American culture as the creator of landmark shows such as “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “Sanford and Son,” “One Day at a Time,” “The Facts of Life,” “Good Times” and “The Jeffersons.”
Lear, a six-time Emmy winner, shows every sign of continuing his impact after decades of shrugging off journalists’ questions about retirement. Lear’s gift to himself on his birthday is continuing the work he loves.
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“I don’t consider retirement, not so long as there’s something I want to do when I wake up in the morning. And there always is,” Lear says. “Some people run. I don’t run. I wake up and do the things that please me. That’s my present to myself. That’s my prayer. That’s everything.”
Lear is the oldest Emmy winner, after nabbing a trophy for best variety show in 2020 at 98 for his collaboration with Jimmy Kimmel, “Live in Front of a Studio Audience: ‘All in the Family’ and ‘Good Times.'” On July 12, Lear broke his own record as the oldest person to receive a nomination – earning two for 2021’s “Live in Front of a Studio Audience: ‘The Facts of Life’ and ‘Diff’rent Strokes'” at 99.
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With 16 Emmy nominations in total, Lear embraced his latest achievement in typical low-key style.
“We celebrated those nominations by going to bed early,” he says.
Understandable, given the continued TV workload with his producing partner Brent Miller and continued popularity. At 100, Lear is as relevant as ever.
Among his ongoing projects, Netflix has ordered an animated version of “Good Times.” And a retelling of his series “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” was greenlit for a pilot episode in honor of Lear’s 99th birthday. The updated version features “Schitt’s Creek” star Emily Hampshire, who will co-write and executive produce.
Even “Who’s The Boss?” is in development for a possible return 30 years after going off the air, with Tony Danza, 71, and Alyssa Milano, 49, set to reprise their father-daughter roles.
“Tony and Alyssa bring this continuation of the Micellis to life,” Lear says. “It’s altogether a joy and a treat to work with them again.”
Miller talks to Lear daily, often hourly, about their projects. Even if his legendary partner “is not in the trenches like he was all those years ago,” Miller says Lear continues to be the driving and inspirational force.
“Norman’s career has been a lifetime of collaboration, and that hasn’t changed,” Miller says. “The godfather of all of these shows is standing by our side as we make these projects.”
Lear, a father of six and grandfather to four, spends more time with his family and Lyn, his third wife of 35 years. Lear still hosts a weekly cigar smoking club with musician friends, which had to go virtual during the pandemic.
“It’s been going on so long, and we enjoy each other. Everybody brings their instrument. We sit around a table and sing and play into the early morning,” says Lear, who still enjoys his Cuban cigars. “If there was no other reason to believe in God, it would be Havana leaf.”
The 100th birthday celebrations have been underway. Lear cut into a giant cake on the Sony studios lot July 19 in front of well-wishers. The man who made a career behind the camera will be front and center, feted with a 100th birthday special Sept. 22 on ABC, featuring celebrity guests and musical performances.
But Wednesday, Lear will celebrate at his farm in Shaftsbury, Vermont, (“what I think of as my Yiddish Hyannis Port”) for an extended family get-together.
“My birthday will entirely consist of waking up in the morning to find my kids and grandkids there and spending the day together,” Lear says. “That’s it. Turning 100 has allowed me to already do a century of things.”
There will be cake, with the correct candles.
“A nice even 100,” he says.
Then, Lear starts looking ahead to life after the century mark.
“You gotta get out of bed every day until you reach a 100,” Lear says. “And then you continue to do it until reach 110 then and then 114. And so on.”